YallaPunk, Philly’s premier Arab-American punk rock festival, takes over Fishtown this weekend

Miriam Hakim lives in Houston. Lucky enough to be in an enclave isolated by flooding but not sinking, she has spent the last week running a whirlwind of volunteer activities, buying supplies, bringing them to shelters and helping with cleanup after Hurricane Harvey.

But even with everything going on at home, she still made the effort to catch her flight to Philly. Hakim didn’t want to miss the YallaPunk festival.

Descending on Fishtown this weekend, YallaPunk presents, celebrates, and was hosted by Americans of Middle Eastern and North African descent. Basically it’s an Arab-American punk rock festival and conference. It attracts participants from all over the country, a testament to the fact that it is probably the first of its kind.

“As far as I know, this is the first thing like this that has been organized in this way,” said Hakim, lead singer of punk band Giant Kitty.

The 26-year-old Syrian-American from Texas participated in smaller gatherings, such as the inauguration day concert, Giant Kitty performed with three other bands who each had a member with Muslims in their family , “but YallaPunk is not about religion,” she mentioned. “Or politics. It’s about uplifting creatives from the Middle East and North Africa. Right now, it feels like even saying “I’m Arab” is a political statement. It is not fair.”

Festival founder Rana Fayez, an Arab immigrant writer living in Philly who DJs next door, said she wants YallaPunk to stay away from politics as much as possible. However, she admits that current events are what prompted her to act.

“In the current political climate, there is a lot of hatred,” Fayez said, noting that she is often afraid to speak Arabic in public. “We have to change the narrative for ourselves as Middle Easterners, as North Africans, as individuals. I saw the healing power of the art and the DIY community, ”she continued. “I want to harness this power. “

Fayez has experience using music festivals for healing. She was a journalism student at Virginia Tech in 2007 when a student there engaged in a shootout, killing 32 people and injuring 17.

“I decided I wanted to change the narrative – I wanted people to talk about something other than the shoot,” Fayez recalls. She had grown up in the same town where the university was located, so she had connections in the community, and she was also a DJ on university radio – “a friend of mine got shot on the radio station this day “- then she knew people in the music business.

So, at 19, Fayez organized his first music festival. “Over 100 bands performed, on eight stages, for three days,” she said. “The party continues to this day. “

She has similar hopes for YallaPunk. “This is our first year, so we’re taking a bit of a loss,” she said. “Me and the artists. But this is a proof of concept.

The festival’s initial funding was mostly crowdsourced, although ticket sales started to generate additional money, needed to pay for things like space at the two concert halls – Johnny Brenda’s and The Barbary. But most of the stuff has been done by hand, from posters to t-shirts, by the dedicated roster of volunteer organizers, spread across the East Coast and across the United States.

When Fayez first pitched the idea for the festival online this spring, it sparked an immediate and intense reaction.

“I remember the first time I spoke to Rana,” Hakim said. “It was so beautiful, I felt like I became that close friend almost immediately.” She described the difficulty of being of Arab descent and also into punk. “Most of my life I have had to choose between behavior that is presentable for my Arab community and behavior that is acceptable for my punk community. With Yalla Punk, I don’t have to choose.

“It was like ‘Oh my God, how did I manage to be alone all this time!’ We no longer need to be alone.

While communication has only taken place via email, SMS, a Facebook group, and a Slack, the folks helping organize this weekend’s festival feel like they’ve finally found a community they can trust. were unaware of the existence.

“In Baltimore punk we have maybe one or two more [Arab] people. In DC, I know two or three of them, ”said Lyla Shlon, lead singer of raw punk band from Baltimore Bidet, who is Lebanese-American. But immediately after joining this festival, she said, “I started meeting a ton of other people – from Saudi Arabia, from Syria – tons from countries. It was like, ‘Oh my God, someone else has had a similar experience, someone else understands it.’

YallaPunk doesn’t just create links between cities. The festival brought together people who were already in Philly, but didn’t know there were other Arab-American punk fans among them.

Poet and performer Maryan Nagy Captan has been a Philadelphia resident for 10 years and originally from Egypt (she moved here when she was 5) who will lead a workshop at the Crane Arts Building called House and Home as part of the educational component of the festival.

“I found out about YallaPunk through a friend who knows Rana,” Captan said, “and I immediately knew I wanted to participate – I don’t know as many young people from the Middle East in Philadelphia. I don’t know many of them in general, but I know they are out there, and I’m about to meet them!

As excited as they are to have brought together the punk community of the MENA region, the organizers stress that the festival is open to everyone and that the more diverse the audience, the better, especially during the educational panels, which are free.

“With the way everything is going now, people have to be educated and see that we are humans – we are absolutely not scary,” Shlon said.

“Even for people who are not [Arab], the takeaway from the festival is that diversity makes people stronger, ”said Hakim. She’s also thrilled to “show people that punk isn’t all about white guys getting drunk and complaining that girls don’t date them.”

Fayez warns that because this is the inaugural festival, “what will come out of it will surprise us as much as you!” But she has confidence in her team of volunteers – and the hundreds of hours they’ve put into it – and looks forward to a successful weekend of music, fun and community building.

YallaPunk takes place from Friday September 1 to Sunday September 3. The full program of groups and workshops is available online. Tickets start at $ 15 for a single show and up to $ 200 for the “ultimate experience” which includes all performances, talks, t-shirts, loot and more.

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